I walked the trade show floor at the iHobby Expo in Chicago last week. The show opened on October 21st and because it was my second year attending, I couldn’t help but notice how different my experience was this year compared to last.
Naturally, a couple of years in the hot fire and brimstone of this economy, working inside a little hobby distribution company, trying to reinvent yourself in a fast moving market… can teach a guy a thing or two.
Don’t get me wrong, I was the same old “kid in a candy store” walking the show floor packed with trains, slot cars, cool toys and “stuff” — but this year I had a lot better eye for good candy, and the BAD CANDY just jumped out at me… like the freaky lady handing out carmel covered apples for Halloween, it’s bad candy — and like bad hobby products — just not worth it.
Last year the industry was down. This year, hobby shop owners and managers were definitely in a better mood and we are all looking forward to what’s next. Not that we have a choice – we’re entrepreneurs – that’s what we do, but I love optimistic people nonetheless.
Last year there were a lot of companies from China demonstrating new and untested product. This year there were a lot of new and untested “distributors” demonstrating still unproven products from China.
Last year, every RC car looked awesome and cool. This year I could see and appreciate quality. You could see it in new RC car product from Traxxas, the new Electrix Truck and an awesome rock crawler from Red Racing. Everything else looked like a collection of unimaginative, copy cat cars from China; a parts supply nightmare looking for a place to happen. I started out as a consumer. I joined a team of experts and hired a few more. Together we moved mountains, redeveloped our retail store, opened an RC car race track and birthday event center, created the eRC product line and a lot more. In that transition and with that experience, I there is no question the American consumer needs a hobby shop to help them sort through small mountains of “good looking” stuff. Helping a customer purchase the honestly good stuff — is an honorable thing to do with your time.
Last year we had just launched the revolution in thrust vectoring EDF jets with the SU 34 and RC pilots wanted to fly our multi-award winning jets. Last year, our new eRC product line was still “top secret” and with awesome products in the pipeline it drove us crazy to keep that under wraps. A few select, specialty hobby shops carry these products now, because their walk-in customer is asking for it. We have been demonstrating, promoting and shipping the all new Micro Stik, a beautiful B-25 Apache Princess, a line of entirely new eRC motors — and now the F/A 18 E Super Hornet is flying out our dock doors. These products deliver on our quality promise — so this hobby shop owner feels a lot better about business this year too.
This year, hobby shop owners were alarmed and concerned about the loss of yet another vendor; old line hobby products distributor, ACE Hobby, which recently closed their doors. Maybe it was a wake up call. Dealers are apparently going through a mental calculation and growing uneasy about how limited their options are for sourcing new and imaginative products. I heard someone say, “… There goes one more line, consumed by Hobbico…” commenting on the immediate price increase for Thunder Tiger products. I found myself thinking, as a hobby shop owner, that Hobbico does a good job for my little retail store — we just don’t do that much business with them.
On Thursday night in the hotel sports bar, a dozen hobby shop owners, Debra Love and others on my team watched my Alma Mater, the University of Oregon (GO DUCKS) put on a clinic for a national television audience. It was an offensive show and general beat down of UCLA. We all had a blast, we all cheered (for a team few knew existed) and I felt like a part of the industry. These are wonderful people. Things are looking up. We can all have fun doing what we do. Yes indeed, this year, the iHobby Show was a lot better than last year.